Joseph Swensen, born in Hoboken, New Jersey, was raised in Harlem by a Japanese-American mother and Norwegian-American father, both of whom are musicians. Swensen enjoyed a highly-acclaimed career as a solo violinist and chamber musician before turning to conducting. He attended Juilliard as a student of the renowned pedagogue Dorothy Delay, studied chamber music with Robert Mann, Leonard Rose and Felix Galimir, and composition with David Diamond and Vincent Persechetti and studied privately with Isaac Stern over a ten-year period. A passionate chamber musician, Swensen performs in recital with pianist Jeffrey Kahane cellist Carter Brey in his newly-formed trio, which appeared in summer 2013 at the Ravinia, La Jolla, Chamber Music Northwest, Music@ Menlo and Orcas Island festivals.
As principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, he and the orchestra toured extensively in the US, UK, Europe and the Far East, appearing at such prestigious events as Mostly Mozart, Tanglewood and Ravinia festivals, the BBC Proms, the Barbican and the Concertgebouw. Swensen is featured as violin soloist and conductor on a highly-regarded series of CDs for Linn Records that he recorded with the orchestra.
Also a composer, Swensen’s works include Mantram (1998) for string orchestra, Latif (1999) for solo cello with chamber ensemble, Shizue (2001) for solo shakuhachi and orchestra and Sinfonia-Concertante for Horn and Orchestra (The Fire and the Rose) (2008).
Swensen, along with Victoria Eisen, is a co-founder and co-director of Habitat4Music. This organization connects highly qualified, young American-trained classical musicians with children living in challenged areas throughout the world with the goal of using the power of long-term, committed, participatory music education and classical music programs to inspire and bring together individuals and communities.
Beginning in September 2013, Swensen serves as a Visiting Professor of Violin at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.